Theriophobia: An Excessive Fear of Wild Animals

4 Jun

Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men / Animal Post

“Ever since man first began to wonder about wolves…he has made regular business of killing them. At first glance the reasons are simple enough and justifiable…. But the wolf is fundamentally different because the history of killing wolves showed far less restraint and far more perversity. Killing wolves has to do with fear based on superstitions. It has to do with duty. It has to do with proving manhood. The most visible motive, and the one that best explains the excess of killing, is a type of fear: theriophobia. Fear of the beast. Fear of the beast as an irrational, violent, insatiable creature.”

gray wolf, Yellowstone, Wyoming

“The wolf was not the cattlemen’s only problem—there was weather, disease, rustling, fluctuating beef prices, hazards of trail drives…. [But] the wolf…became an ‘object of pathological hatred.’ Men in a speculative business like cattle ranching singled out the wolf as a kind of scapegoat for their financial losses. It was against a back drop of…taming wilderness, the law of vengeance, protection of property, an inalienable right to decide the fate of all animals, and the…conception of man as protector of defenseless creatures—that the wolf became the enemy.

“The motive for wiping out wolves proceeded from misunderstanding, from illusions of what constituted sport, from strident attachment to private property, from ignorance and irrational hatred. But the scope, the casual irresponsibility, and the cruelty of wolf killing is something else. I do not think it comes from some base, atavistic urge, though that may be a part of it. I think it is that we simply do not understand our place in the universe and have not the courage to admit it.”

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